Hal Gill spent a lot of time during his first few days with the Nashville Predators watching — and not always by design.
There were just under seven minutes to play in the second period Tuesday when his teammates and the crowd at Bridgestone Arena saw just what the veteran 6-foot-7 defenseman can do for a team. His defensive play in the neutral zone created a two-on-one for Mike Fisher and Sergei Kostitsyn that resulted in a shorthanded goal and a two-goal lead over Vancouver in a game Nashville ultimately won 3-1.
“Having that reach, he was able to poke the puck up,” coach Barry Trotz said. “He broke up the play and we go down and score. … There’s a big difference when he’s on the ice.”
Gill joined the Predators a week ago in a trade with Montreal and brought with him a reputation as a top-notch penalty killer. In the past six seasons he played for four different franchises, three of which finished 12th or better in the NHL in penalty killing. At the time of the trade, Montreal was No. 1 in the NHL.
Yet the first time he was in the lineup and the Predators were forced to play shorthanded, he contributed nothing to a successful penalty kill in the closing minutes of a 3-2 win at Dallas on Sunday. Instead, he was the one in the penalty box because of a tripping call.
“That’s not the way it’s supposed to go, but that is the way it goes sometimes,” Gill said. “But it was good for me to sit and kind of watch it. I was sweating it out in there a little bit but hopefully learned a little bit in there as well.”
Two days earlier, he watched every minute of Nashville’s 2-1 loss at Detroit. He joined the team that day but did not arrive in time to be in the lineup that night.
What he saw from the Predators’ top defensive pair of Ryan Suter and Shea Weber actually surprised him a little.
“I thought for sure I’d be awesome getting on the ice [with this team],” Gill confessed. “But they make the game look easy. They’re obviously great players, but everything they do is smooth and hopefully I can learn a little by watching.”
Even in the Vancouver game, he had time to sit and watch. His 16:05 of ice time in that one was the least among the six Nashville defensemen in uniform.
The idea, of course, is for him to be on the ice in critical situations such as penalty kills and the final minutes of tight contests down the stretch, which continues with Thursday’s game at home against the St. Louis Blues.
“Everyone knows what [Suter and Weber] bring to the team,” Gill said. “From there on down, everybody’s trying to figure out what they can do. You want to provide as much as you can to support those guys.
“They’re the big guns and they’ll get a lot of the ice time, but we want to support them as much as we can.”
In his case, he needs to avoid untimely penalties, such as the one against the Stars.
“We were sort of chuckling after the game, not so much during the game,” Trotz said. “It was tailor-made for him to be on the ice in that situation and he took a penalty.”
• Center Chris Mueller, recalled Tuesday because of uncertainty regarding Fisher’s status, was reassigned to Milwaukee (AHL) on Wednesday.
Mueller was scratched against Vancouver after Fisher, who missed the previous game with an illness, decided he could play.